Center of Social Research. 6:12 AM.
Laura was sitting on the bed. The room was still dark, but her soul even darker still. As she mentally played back the conversation she had just overhead in the office, she became more and more convinced she had nothing else to do in that place. She looked around without seeing until finally her eyes focused on the figure leaning on the door, breathing heavily.
Steele bent down and put his hands on his knees in an effort to breath more easily. His heart was pounding wildly in his chest, but he wasn't sure that was altogether caused by the running. He could feel Laura's eyes on him, so he lifted his head. Had she been crying?
"Why the hell did you run away like that? You could have been caught, for God's sakes!" he exclaimed, unable to control the utter terror he had been feeling since she had suddenly taken off from the office.
Laura sat motionless and quiet, and for a fragment of a second, Steele thought she looked extremely fragile. maybe even on the verge of collapse. However, as soon as his words were spoken, he saw a flash of anger crossing her dark brown eyes and knew he was mistaken.
Laura lifted her chin, her hair flowing gently and framing her pale face as if it were a delicate canvas. Her brows were slightly drawn together, and emphasized the shadowing of her dark ayes, which were shining with an inner, glimmering light.
"I am perfectly capable of looking after myself, Mr. Steele," she replied in a tone that reminded him of the early years of their acquaintance.
It was a tone that shot warning signals to his brain. "You almost scared me to death!" he replied, trying desperately to bring her back to him, to stop her from retreating into a protective shell he wasn't sure he would be able to access.
"Don't worry, Mr. Steele," she said calmly. "Even if they had caught me, I wouldn't have turned you over. Rest assured that your murky past and that of your associates is safe with me."
Steele lowered his head and let it hang between his shoulders for a moment. Then shaking it in disbelief he stood straight and laughed bitterly.
After a few moments, his laughter subsided. "I don't believe this," he said as he approached the bed.
Seeing him coming closer, Laura got off the bed and stood on the opposite side, the piece of furniture standing between them like an unbreakable barricade.
"You can trust me, I won't jeopardize the bright future that awaits all of you," she said evenly, her voice controlled and slightly defiant. On the inside, however, she felt as if she was ready to explode. She wanted to hurt him for making her love him; she wanted to see him suffer as she was suffering. "I simply don't care anymore about what you decide to do with your life, Mr. Steele."
Steele clenched his fists and jaw with anger. He couldn't believe what his ears had just told him, what his eyes were undeniably giving him proof of. He was losing Laura.
For the briefest of moments, he thought how easy it would be to tell her he didn't care, either-- how easy it would be to pretend it all had been just a momentary illusion. But he knew he couldn't do that... He wouldn't do that.
"I won't let you do this," he said, walking towards the bed and then around it, cornering her. "Not anymore. I've had enough of your games, Laura."
She stared at him, her temper beginning to rise. "My games? What the hell are you talking about?" she asked, keeping herself in check as she took another pace back.
Steele closed the distance between them with one long stride and Laura felt trapped. He stood still, towering over her and burning her soul with the fire of his cobalt eyes. "I'm talking about us," he said, gesturing vaguely at the two of them standing there, "I'm talking about you walking away at the first sign of trouble."
Laura couldn't give credit to her ears. She stared into his eyes, and saw in its depths anger beyond measure, endless hurt and regret, and she read in them a cruelty she had never seen before. Laura was suddenly afraid.
"I never walk away from trouble, Mr. Steele," she said slowly.
"Don't you?" he asked, the vein in the side of his forehead ready to burst.
"I came looking for you all the way to Russia!" she exclaimed, and without even noticing what she was doing, she slapped him hard across the face.
Steele took the unexpected blow without even flinching. He put a hand to his face, his eyes narrowing to an icy metallic slits that were shadowed under his closely knitted brow.
Laura was breathing heavily. The force of her strike was even greater than she intended and her hand felt as if were about to combust. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
But Laura's words hardly registered as suddenly the sweet melody of Steele's pocket watch began echoing in the tension filled room.
Laura looked up to him, and found him with his head lowered, staring fixedly at the golden case, his long fingers caressing tenderly the engraved letters. He was completely lost in thought.
"Did you really come looking for me?" he asked at last. "Or were you after the memory of me?"
"What?" she asked, not really wanting to know what he meant.
He raised his eyes from the watch and met her inquiring gaze. "Is it me you wanted? Really me?" he asked again. Then with the certainty of those who have seen the world in its cruel ambiguity, he added, "Or were you after that dream of yours-- after Remington Steele?"
Neither of them spoke until the music had ended; they were both so confused and angry, they had forgotten the other one was still in the room.
Laura crossed her arms protectively over her chest, and thought intently about his last question. *Is he right? Am I really after an illusion, instead of a real man?* she wondered as her eyes rested on his hands.
She looked at the way he lazily caressed the old metallic case and remembered the tenderness in his voice when they had talked earlier. But she also recalled how cold and lethal he had been that night at the museum in Spain, how sad and lost when he had confessed he didn't know his own identity, how ruthless and accurate when he had knocked out that soldier outside, and how remorseful he had felt when he had seen the man's family photos.
Laura looked at the man in front of her and for the first time in a long time, she didn't see Remington Steele standing there. He still had the charm, the quick wit and the humor, but they seemed to have been deeply buried. She felt his eyes scanning her face and realized this man-- this real man-- was tired. He was tired of playing, running and hiding. He had his own life, his own family, and his right to be happy. She knew it, but still-
"It's just not fair," she muttered almost to herself.
Steele had been looking at her, his mind lost in the past, but when he heard Laura's words he felt himself coming out of his own reverie.
"Life is not fair. Old saying--quite accurate," he commented in a reflexive tone. Then looking deep inside himself, he added grimly, "I have seen people die who deserved to live, and I have seen people live who deserved to die. I have seen happy families, and I've seen lonely children. I've seen the rich, the poor, and those who don't really care."
He sighed deeply before continuing, the weight of his memories seeming like the heaviest of burdens. "I saw too much too soon and fought like hell to forget it-- None of it is fair, Laura, but it's all we have." He looked down, hiding his own pain as his next words came out. "I can't give you Remington Steele, Laura. Not the one you want, not anymore."
"I know," she said turning her back on him. "I also know we'll get out of this safe and sound. We'll find a way, Mr. Steele."
Her words were reassuring and friendly this time. When she turned to face him with a genuine, albeit sad, smile on her face, Steele thought for a second that she had finally understood. He smiled reassuringly in return and felt his heart lighten.
"You will be able to go back to your wife soon," Laura said without anger, but a hint of sarcasm lingered in her voice as she added, "She'll be alright. I'm sure she will."
Steele's fleeting moment of joy vanished as soon as it had arrived. She looked so calm and understanding, yet she had missed his point entirely.
"You didn't hear a word I told you earlier, did you?" he accused angrily. "How can you be so -- so blind?"
Laura was shocked *How dare he be angry after what he's done!* She suddenly felt that the room was too small, the air not clear enough, the temperature too hot for comfort. "Oh- Go to hell!" she yelled as she smacked him on the chest with a closed fist. "I'm not blind and I'm not deaf, either. I heard what you told her!"
Steele caught her wrist before she could take it back and held it firmly as his narrowed eyes bore into hers. "It would seem, Miss Holt, that you have selective hearing," he accused in a dangerously low tone of voice, "You conveniently forget what you've been told and decide to guide your emotions by blind jealousy. Yes, you are blind!"
Laura was having trouble breathing. She tried to set her hand free but couldn't. When she spoke, her voice was as edgy as dangerous as his.
"I am not! I know you love her. I saw it in your face and I heard it in your voice," she tried to control her emotions. "You love your wife, so you should go back to her." Her voice cracked on the last words and she lowered her eyes, unable to meet his gaze any longer, "Now let go!"
Steele felt her trying to release herself form his grasp and on reflex, his grip tightened even more. Her words rang in his mind as he fought between his love for her and the rage he felt at her failure to understand him.
"It's always the same, isn't it? Daniel, Felicia, you... All of you are trying to decide what's best for me, what's in my best interest, aren't you?" he yelled as he let the frustration and pain out of his chest. "Well, guess what, Laura? You don't have to!"
Steele closed his eyes for a second, trying to concentrate, and swallowed hard as he tried to avoid the tears that were burning inside him. When his eyes finally opened again, Laura saw they were strangely wet, but she'd never seen them so clear, so full of emotion, so full of -- love?
"There is only one person in here..." he said as he pointed the side of his forehead with a finger "...to decide what I think, what I do and whom I love. And that person is me!" he exclaimed, still holding his grip on her wrist firmly. "There's only one person in here..." he continued, still livid with anger, and taking her trembling hand to his heart "....and that's you! So don't you dare tell me you're giving me up for my own good, you hear?"
Upon finishing his last words, he released Laura's hand and took a step backwards, his eyes still focused on her, his jaw still tightly clenched.
Without thinking, Laura took her aching wrist and massaged it with her other hand. She stood there, her mind spinning, his words ringing over and over inside her head, unable to articulate any words of her own. She was lost in the sea of blue that were his eyes, and was adrift in a storm of her own fears when he lowered them to focus his gaze on her hands.
"I'm sorry about that; I didn't mean to hurt you," he said apologetically.
Before she knew it, she quickly closed the gap between them and clasped her arms around him, burying her face on the fabric of his jacket as her tears flowed unmercifully. Steele's arms went easily around her small frame and held her strongly, as if he'd never let her go. He rested his chin on the top of her head as both of them trembled with exhausted hearts.
"Don't you ever dare to give up on me, Laura," he repeated into her ear, his warm breath sending shivers down her spine as she shook her head negatively. "I'd rather die than lose you again; I love you too much," he said brokenly, each word spoken for the first time ever, each syllable a firstborn that fought its way into the world to give the words a meaning altogether new.
Slowly and carefully, they sought each other. Then finally letting go of their fears and giving way to their needs, their bodies melted into one as their beings fused into a sole entity. Their loving was urgent, frantic, and violent, with both of them knowing it might be their first and last chance. They were each hungry and desperate to possess the other because both of them now knew they loved and were loved more than words could ever describe. It was almost as if they were acting upon the knowledge they might not have much more time together and they needed to reaffirm their claim on each other.
The light slumber to which they had soon succumbed was crudely interrupted fifteen minutes later, as the door of the room burst open to allow a very distraught Kira Bulbakov in.
"Sorry to barge in like this, but we've got trouble," Bulbakov said to the two figures lying beneath the covers of the bed.
"What the hell-" Steele exclaimed as he sat up on the thin mattress, his senses on full alert. He moved left and flanked Laura with his own body to protect her from any imminent danger. Then seeing the distinctive shape of his old friend's wardrobe cutting against the powerful light that came from the corridor, he relaxed a little.
Laura woke up with a start, but it took her a few seconds to realize she had actually been asleep. It seemed that only a few seconds had passed since she and Steele had -
Was that Bulvakov standing on the doorway? As Laura was about to lift her upper body to see better, she felt Steele's hand pressing down on her shoulder, telling her to stay where she was.
Bulbakov looked at them, suppressing a smile. If the time weren't so pressing, he would have commented, maybe even joked. Unfortunately, their situation was rather urgent.
"The police have tracked you down, Misha. Come on; we need to go!" Bulbakov exclaimed, earnestly worried about his old friend.
Steele felt the undercurrent of fear in the Russian's voice and without thinking about it twice, he stood up from bed and began dressing, not caring in the least about the fact that he was being watched. He grabbed Laura's clothes from the floor, threw the bundle towards her and motioned for Bulbakov to go outside for a second until they were ready.
"We'll be done in a minute," he told the oddly dressed agent.
"Nyet maglii bi Vy sdyelat pabistrieyie?" - Can't you do it faster?- Bulbakov said jokingly as he admired his self-confident friend and his embarrassed, half-naked companion.
Steele glanced at him and replied evenly, "Nyet, Ya menya balit." - No, it hurts-
Bulbakov laughed heartedly and closed the door behind him.
Laura looked at Steele in bewilderment. "What was that?" she asked as she hastily began dressing.
"Just Kira acting like a bloody pig," he said with a half smile on his face. "You ready?"
"Do you trust him?" Laura asked as she pulled her sweater over her head and watched Steele tuck the soldier's knife on the back of his belt.
"No, but we have to follow him anyway; we can't make it out of here on our own. And don't forget the police are after me," he said. Then realizing Laura was more scared for them than he had thought, he looked in her eyes and bent over her to place a light kiss on her lips. "It'll be alright, luv. It'll be alright," he promised.
Laura put her blue vatnik on and they both left the room.
"Good morning, Miss Holt," Bulbakov said, smiling, as they moved rapidly across the hallways.
Bulbakov led the way, with Laura at his side and Steele following closely behind. Arkadi, the soldier Steele had knocked out earlier, closed the formation, weapon ready in hand, a white bandage hastily wrapped around his head.
"Where are we going, Bulbakov?" Laura asked, not in the least warmed by the Russian's open friendliness.
They were almost out of the Research Center, hurrying along a narrow passage that led to the exits near the river. Bulbakov whispered an order to Arkadi, who lurched forward with trained obedience and then stopped at the end of the hallway. He looked around briefly and then made a signal for the rest to follow.
"A good fellow, that Arkadi," Bulbakov said innocently. "Poor chap was attacked last night; it was nice of the assailants not to kill him."
Steele and Laura looked at each other, but neither of them said a word.
The group walked out of the building and into the chilly, invigorating fresh air outside. Bulbakov was again at the lead, moving skillfully in the complete darkness as if he knew the territory by heart. Laura and Steele moved up close, panting and staggering on the uneven ground.
"Where are you taking us?" Laura demanded.
"I have a small place not far from here. No one knows it's mine, so we should be safe," Bulbakov explained.
"Safe from what?" she wanted to know, her patience thinning with each second that passed.
"From Grechko, and from your friend Mr. Michaels, Miss Holt," Bulbakov replied easily, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
He turned to the right and led them around a seemingly huge, metal tank. A Zil was parked behind the thick woods just outside the Research Center grounds. Bulbakov motioned for the other three to follow him as he opened the gates.
Once they reached the car, Bulbakov turned to Arkadi and thanked him for his services. As they shook hands, an exorbitant amount of money changed owners.
Arkadi turned to leave.
"Privyet u vashyijh bliskijh," Steele told him, liking the man. - Regards to the family-
"Yeb vas! Matyerybyets," Arkadi replied, giving Steele the finger. Then scratching his aching head painfully, he disappeared into the shadows.
Bulbakov was smiling as he opened the door for Steele to get into the car.
"Seems like you've made a new friend. Eh, Misha?" he said, not bothering to hide his amusement.
"Well, Kira. You know a man can never have enough good friends, can't he?" Steele replied darkly.
Bulbakov nodded and got inside the car. Once the three of them were in, he started the engine and drove them away to safety.
Ten minutes later, driving on Bolshoi Prospekt, across from the Malaya Neva River, Bulbakov slowed down a little. Looking at Laura in the rear view mirror, he asked, "How much do you think your friend Michaels knows about Misha's business here, Miss Holt?"
"He knows nothing, Bulbakov; leave him alone," Laura replied immediately, sounding more afraid than she wanted to.
Steele looked in the rear view mirror as well and saw her fear. Still, he couldn't help but wonder how much Murphy did really know. He looked at Bulbakov sideways and asked, "Why do you think he's a threat?"
Bulbakov frowned as he considered his answer. The truth was, he needed Grechko out of the way, but Michaels didn't really matter. However, Michaels was the key to get to Laura, and Laura was the key to get to Misha, and Misha... Well, Misha was the man who was going to get rid of Grechko for him.
"Sergeant Grechko visited Michaels last night at the suokhotz and asked him about the whereabouts of Mikhail Anatoli Novikov."
Steele frowned at the mention of his former name. "How could Grechko know?" he asked, not bothering to hide his increasing concern.
Bulbakov lifted his shoulders, replying, "I don't know. Novikov's been dead for ten years."
Laura looked at both men. She didn't like where this conversation was heading, or the fact that her one of her dearest friends was somehow involved.
"Who's Mikhail Anatoli Novikov and why is he so important?" she asked, dreading what the answer might be.
"He's sitting in front of you, Miss Holt. And you know very well why he is important, don't you?" Bulbakov replied, toying with his prey like a magician with his audience-- giving and taking a little at the time, providing clues and the necessary amounts of information to keep them interested, but never disclosing his true intentions.
Steele felt Laura's eyes boring into the back of his head and turned back to look at her with earnest eyes.
"Warsaw, remember?" he asked her, his voice filled with melancholy.
Laura nodded, remembering all he had told her about his first meeting with Kira Bulbakov so many years before. "Why did he die?" she asked.
Steele smiled at her and reached out to touch her face. "He needed to move on, Luv. And besides, he had just pulled off an amazing job. The police were after him, so-" He paused a moment, deep in thought, and then his face brightened. "That's got to be it!" he exclaimed.
Both Laura and Bulbakov stared at him, urging him to continue.
"He must know me from my Warsaw days; maybe he was a fellow student or something. The name doesn't ring a bell, though."
"No," Laura chimed in. "He's older than you."
Steele turned back around and leaned back on the seat, staring at the empty road ahead. A few moments later, he looked at Bulbakov, who seemed to be concentrating on his driving. But Steele knew him too well; he knew Bulbakov was hiding something.
"Maybe he is connected to the book," Laura said from the back seat, "I don't think he bought my declaration at all."
"I agree with Misha; Grechko must know you from the past," Bulbakov said, trying to avoid any more talk about the book and its current location.
"What does the KGB know about him, then? And you're not going to say you didn't run a check on him, are you?" Steele asked.
"He's straight as an arrow, as far as we know. But I am worried about Michaels. I'm afraid of what Grechko may learn when he speaks with him again, if they haven't spoken already," Bulbakov explained, weaving his web around Steele with deliberate maliciousness.
"Murphy won't say a thing! He's not a snitch," Laura declared.
Steele looked at her reflection and nodded. "I know," he said quietly.
But as soon as she looked away, he frowned deeply. He really wasn't sure about Murphy. Of course, he knew the man would never do anything that could harm Laura, but Steele knew very well what the other man's feelings for him were. The thought of having Murphy in a cozy conversation with a Russian Police officer who might know who he was did not sit too well right now. Not well at all.
"Don't worry about Murphy, Kira. As Laura just said, he's to be trusted. I will personally see to it that he leaves the country as soon as possible," Steele said affably, as he smiled reassuringly to Laura.
"Schto?" - what?- Bulbakov asked, "How do you suppose you will accomplish that, my friend?"
"Nothing to it, old man," Steele replied, as a broad smile spread across his face "I'll talk him into it."
His mind was already working with a plan.
End Part 11
To Part 12